Health

Stealing from Animals to Get Your Fix

Yes, it's come to this — veterinarians are now being recruited in the fight against opioids

Tifani Collins had been working at a veterinarian clinic in Duluth, Minnesota, for only a single day before she began stealing pet medications for her personal use. The 25-year-old employee swapped human medications for a prescription animal narcotic, Tramadol, which vets give to pets after surgery for pain relief. Collins was later arrested on charges of aggravated cruelty to animals and possession of a dangerous drug.

Stealing from a sick animal may seem a low way to get your fix — but Collins, sadly, is no longer the exception. A survey this year from Baylor College of Medicine found a surprising number of pet owners are filching their pets’ medications, including painkillers and antibiotics.

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With vets now reporting that owners are seeking medication for themselves rather than their pets, the American Veterinary Medical Association issued a statement suggesting that vets give only a limited number of refills for prescription pain medication.

The state of New Hampshire, which is still reporting staggering numbers of opioid misuse, will implement a new policy in January 2017 requiring vets to check pet owners’ names and their pets against a database of opioid prescriptions tracked by the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Then they’ll have to check the names two more times that year — in case someone develops an addiction.

“If veterinarians are to have the same prescribing and dispensing rights as other practitioners, they should adhere to the same laws.”

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Dr. Stephen Crawford, who serves on the Board of Veterinary Medicine for New Hampshire, says this new policy throws vets into a moral gray area for which they have no training. What are vets supposed to do when they find names on the database? These professionals have no background in medicating people and yet will be required to make decisions about prescribing medications to humans.

Vets haven’t the training or the licensing to check their pet owners’ medical records, Crawford told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “You’re putting the veterinarian in a position where they have to make a medical determination on a human being, and that’s not OK.”

Other practicing vets don’t see a problem. “[This policy] seems reasonable — if veterinarians are to have the same prescribing and dispensing rights as other practitioners, they should need to adhere to the same laws aimed at limited prescription drug abuse,” said Dr. Katherine van Ekert, a practicing veterinarian in San Francisco and co-founder of VetPronto, the nation’s largest veterinary house call service.

Related: Quit Giving Kids Access to Your Meds

But the success of the policy depends on how it’s implemented. “If it requires some simple one- to two-step data entry to validate against a database, this seems reasonable. I can see it becoming arduous if it requires phone validation or use of a poorly architected, slow government database,” Dr. van Ekert told LifeZette.

For van Ekert, a quick check against a database seems a small price to pay to prevent opioid dependence or overdose, especially since she has seen pet owners misuse painkillers in her own practice. “Prescription abuse, particularly for products like Tramadol, is definitely in the realm of possibility. It’s been an issue.”

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